Sensory Nerves: Turning Them On!
Often the word "sense" is used in Transformations Studio classes interchangeably with the ideas of "observing or noticing" your body. We realize that the brain is already receiving sensory information. It receives sensory input when we are in a parasympathetic state and it also receives sensory input when we are in a sympathetic state and "fight or flight". The brain is taking in sensory input all of the time regardless of which state of the autonomic nervous system we are in. We receive larger volumes of sensory information when we are in a parasympathetic state and this volume decreases when we are in a fight or flight state, especially in the later conservation of energy "fight or flight" stages.
The diagram of the brain above shows the areas of the brain that are specifically associated with certain types of sensory information. The blue areas relate to motion and the body's position in space, the pink areas are related to auditory stimulus and the orange and yellow area at the back of the brain is associated with vision. In the parasympathetic state, sensory nerve information enters the brain, is interpreted and then those areas of the brain in green send out an appropriate response to the information. In the sympathetic state these areas of the brain do not receive as much information and so motor reflexes from the lower uncolored hind brain are sent out to deal with whatever situation is at hand. Sending out motor reflexes from a lower part of the brain is a much quicker process to creating action, which is very helpful in a true "fight or flight" situation.
When sensory nerve activity to the brain decreases, it does so for one primary reason. This is due to the demyelination of the nerves. Healthline.com states that "Myelin is made of membrane layers that cover an axon. This is similar to the idea of an electrical wire with coating to protect the metal underneath. Myelin allows a nerve signal to travel faster. In unmyelinated neurons, a signal can travel along the nerves at about 1 meter per second. In a myelinated neuron, the signal can travel 100 meters per second ....... Demyelination slows down messages sent along axons and causes the axon to deteriorate. Depending upon the location of the damage, axon loss can cause problems with feeling, moving, seeing, hearing, and thinking clearly. " (http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/demyelination#overview1)
Demyelination of a nerve can occur for many reasons but below are three reasons in which we have some positive potential to create changes.
As mentioned above, when we are in different "fight or flight" stages the sensory nerve activity to the brain starts to lessen. In the sympathetic/fight or flight state chemical changes occur in the fascia causing it to dehydrate. This dehydration creates compression in the joint spaces, around the muscles, nerves and blood vessels. The compression erodes the myelin sheath around the nerves. In the active stages of "fight or flight" in which we are fighting or fleeing sensory nerve activity decreases in the skin, joints and fascia to prevent us from being distracted by discomfort as we are involved in the more important matter of surviving. In the conservation of energy stages of "fight or flight" sensory nerve activity decreases even further from the fascia and joints as well as the organs. In the conservation of energy stages movement of the body and the digestion system is not encouraged because it requires too much energy expenditure, thus exhausting the body. Therefore our body stops delivering signals to the brain about hunger or the need to change our body's position in space.
"If You Dont Use It, You Lose It" Our body and brain have a tremendous focus on efficiency of the body. If we do not use and area in the body for a period of time, the brain perceives that the sensory nerves in that area of the body are not very necessary. The brain will then demyelinate the nerves to use the myelin for different functional purposes in the body. This is the "if we don't use it we lose it" idea.
Adequate Fuel Uptake. The myelin sheath around a nerve can also break down if our body doesn't provide adequate fuel to regenerate the myelin sheath over time. Myelin is regenerated by cholesterol. Animal protein is the source from which we get this cholesterol. As stated by Carla Hannaford in Smart Moves "Our diets must be balanced to include all ten essential amino acids necessary for the synthesis of proteins and the essential fatty acids that procude our hormones and myelin sheaths. These essential amino and fatty acids cannot be synthesized by the human body from molecules present in the body." (Smart Moves p 164) If we do not eat adequate animal protein the myelin sheath around the nerve breaks down over time and cannot be repaired, thus decreasing sensory input to the brain.
Getting the remyelination process started!
There are easy solutions to the "If you don't use it you lose it" and the adequate fuel uptake reason for demyelination of the nerves. Boldly take the approach of "USE IT TO NOT LOSE IT"! Start moving! One of the best ways to reactivate and reinstate sensory nerves that have been lost due to lack of use is to start to do movements that are novel to the brain that require a greater sensory input uptake to perform. If you have never done a movement before it will be novel to your brain, thus triggering your brain to seek out more sensory input. Some examples of novel movement are dance, parkour, balancing on a BOSU ball or physioball, crawling and being upside down. All of these motions require a balance component and proprioceptive awareness in multiple planes of motion simultaneously. Maybe entertain the thought of trying out for American Ninja Warrior. A more doable alternative would be to become the first American Ninja Mover, someone who gives any type of movement a try!
As for getting an adequate fuel uptake for resynthisizing and regenerating myelin, this can easily be addressed by introducing animal protein sources back into the diet. Incorporate a mammal or fowl protein source on a regular basis. These protein sources include meat, dairy products, eggs and poultry. We don't have canine teeth for nothing!!!
There is another general technique that can be employed to assist in reactivating sensory nerve activity that has been diminished. This is a technique of conscious awareness/ observation or the skill of noticing. Conscious awareness/observation has been proven to effect matter in the area that the awareness/observation is placed, thus effecting cellular vibrations and nerve transmissions. Masaru Emoto's water studies even indicated that consciousn thought had an effect on water, something completely outside of the body. As we put our awareness or observation on a structure in the body, the cells in the body increase in their activity level, thus increasing the sensory motor response in the body. In a study entitled "The effectiveness of proprioceptive training for improving motor function: a systematic review" published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2014; 8: 1075 , the primary conclusion was "There is converging evidence that proprioceptive training can yield meaningful improvements in somatosensory and sensorimotor function." In this study it stated that "broadly defined, proprioception refers to the conscious awareness of body and limbs". This is one of many studies which indicate that conscious awareness/observation during movement can be used to improve sensory motor function.
Bringing our conscious awareness/observation to our bodies sounds like a relatively easy task but the challenge for we humans, particularly adults, it to observe and notice without applying judgement to what we are observing. Often our observations are accompanied by the questions - "is this right or is it wrong, is this bad or good, or how is this supposed to be?" The answers to all of these questions do not really matter because the purpose of observing or noticing is not to know, but rather to habituate the sensory nerves to consistently send the brain information from that area of the body. If observation is done repetitively in an area, eventually the sensory nerves in that area will be habituated to sending our brain information. Our brain will lay down new coatings of myelin if these nerves are always actively being used.
Nerve function in the body, including sensory nerve function, decreases when demyelination of the nerve occurs. Three easy techniques we can employ to improve sensory nerve function are 1) Perform novel movements that will keep more of your body's sensory nerves active. Incorporate movements that are multi-planer and have a balance component. 2) Get regular servings of animal protein so that the fuel source to remyelinate nerve tissue is readily available in your body. 3) Practice the art of conscious awareness/observation and become skilled at noticing!!!!!